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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 43

 

 

Verses 1-7

The People Of Judah And Their Leaders Reject The Word Of YHWH And Seek Refuge In Egypt (Jeremiah 43:1-7).

Even as Jeremiah had been giving to the people ‘the word of YHWH’ he had recognised from their reaction that they were going to reject it. And so it proved. A group of ‘proud men’, which included the leaders of the people, came to Jeremiah and accused him of prophesying at the behest of Baruch, the son of Neriah, who had been Jeremiah’s amanuensis and was a man of high standing. And they then subsequently sought refuge in Egypt, in the border town of Tahpanes. This had clearly always been their intention, whatever word from YHWH Jeremiah brought them. So once again Judah proved itself unwilling to obey the voice of YHWH.

We must not underestimate the significance of this event. YHWH had made a clear offer to Judah to re-establish it in accordance with His promises in Jeremiah 31:28, by ‘building it and planting it’. This was thus an open and direct rejection of the new covenant. It will be noted that they did not attack Jeremiah directly. They did so through Baruch, suggesting that Jeremiah’s influence over many of the people was still large. By this means they justified to themselves their disobedience to the word of YHWH. How easily we can find ourselves doing the same thing. We do not directly refuse to obey God. Instead we find some way of arguing our way round what He demands in order to justify our own position.

Jeremiah 43:1

‘And it came about that, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking to all the people all the words of YHWH their God, with which YHWH their God had sent him to them, even all these words,’

Note the emphasis on the fact that Jeremiah had brought to them the word of ‘YHWH THEIR God’ (repeated twice), and that they had listened while he pronounced the whole. It was a momentous situation. Judah were once more being faced up to the question as to whether they were truly willing to respond to YHWH as THEIR God by obeying His word through Jeremiah, as they had solemnly promised to do (Jeremiah 42:2-5).

Jeremiah 43:2-3

‘Then spoke Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the arrogant men, saying to Jeremiah, “You speak falsely. YHWH our God has not sent you to say, “You shall not go into Egypt to sojourn there but Baruch the son of Neriah set you on against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may put us to death, and carry us away captive to Babylon.”

Up to this point Johanan had been the prominent one but now the leadership is taken by Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, who may have been the brother of the Jezaniah mentioned in Jeremiah 42:1, or may indeed be identical with him. (It was not unusual for people to have two names. Some, however, see one of the names as being a copying error, but there is no reason why this should be so, although LXX sees it that way). This may have been because Azariah was the leader of the discontented party, or because in governmental matters he held precedence over the military leaders. The ‘arrogant/proud men’ were those whose self-pride made them exalt themselves against YHWH, they were the ‘discontents’. It may simply be a way of describing the whole attitude of the group of leading men.

They came as a group to Jeremiah and informed him that in their view he was speaking falsely, and not bringing them the word of YHWH at all. They refused to believe that YHWH had commanded them not to go to Egypt. It may be significant that they altered what Jeremiah had actually said, replacing ‘al (not at this time) with lo (not at all). This has ever been the method of the deceiver of men, right from the time of his activity in the Plain of Eden.

Indeed they claimed that he had simply been influenced by Baruch, the son of Neriah, his former amanuensis and assistant (Jeremiah 32:12-16; Jeremiah 36:4-32), who was also with the party (Jeremiah 43:6). Baruch was clearly a man from an influential family, and an aristocrat, who undoubtedly owed his freedom to the fact that he had been Jeremiah’s close supporter (his brother Seraiah had been transported to Babylon (Jeremiah 51:59) and was designated as a ‘prince’ or ‘noble’). He is rebuked elsewhere for a certain tendency to seek greatness and influence (Jeremiah 45:5), a danger for us all. This may suggest that unlike Jeremiah he had taken advantage of Nebuchadrezzar’s goodwill to further himself and his ambitions, something for which he had to be rebuked. In Jewish tradition he is depicted as the author of the apocryphal book of Baruch, and is portrayed as having lived in Babylon for a period, and as having had influence there, although we must remember that that book might have arisen directly as a result of what is written here. However that might be, Jeremiah is being accused of being influenced by Baruch with a view to Nebuchadrezzar being able to gain his revenge on them. The words bear all the marks of being an excuse, but they do indicate how sure they were that Nebuchadrezzar would seek to do just that.

Of course most of them had for a long period in the past been prejudiced against Jeremiah, considering him to be a false prophet. Thus in spite of the fact that what he had prophesied came true, and that he had refused to go to Babylon and had remained among them, there was that within them that would always hold Jeremiah in suspicion of being a Babylonian collaborator

Jeremiah 43:4

‘So Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, and all the people, did not obey the voice of YHWH, to dwell in the land of Judah.’

The consequence was that the commanders of the Judean forces, headed by Johanan, together with ‘all the people’ (i.e. those present in the party) did not obey YHWH’s voice. They refused to continue living in the land of Judah with the constant threat of Nebuchadrezzar’s vengeance hanging over them. There is a reminder here for all of us that before changing our whereabouts we should consider the will of God.

Jeremiah 43:5-6

‘But Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, took all the remnant of Judah, who were returned from all the nations where they had been driven, to sojourn in the land of Judah, the men, and the women, and the children, and the king’s daughters, and every person that Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan; and Jeremiah the prophet, and Baruch the son of Neriah,’

Thus the whole group, ‘the remnant of Judah’, decamped and set off for Egypt. It is difficult to know how far the description of those who went with them takes in all the inhabitants of Judah. The description certainly covers the men who were in the various fighting groups who had been guerillas, no doubt along with their families, (they would see themselves as liable to retribution), together with former refugees who had returned to Judah and could be seen as there ‘without permission’ (Jeremiah 40:11). And it includes all who had been living in Mizpah under the protection of Gedaliah, who could be seen as liable to suspicion, especially daughters of the royal house who could be made an example of. And it includes Jeremiah and Baruch who were probably forced to go with them (even though they may have been quite willing to go so as to cater to the spiritual needs of the people) . But there would be many elsewhere in Judah who had survived the invasion, and among them would be many of ‘the poor of the land’ to whom Nebuzaradan had given land who were no doubt scattered throughout Judah (Jeremiah 39:10). None of them had much to fear from Nebuchadrezzar’s reprisals. Thus the land may well have remained fairly well populated, as in fact is required by the fact that when Nebuchadrezzar did arrive he was able to take into exile 745 of the leading men in Judah (Jeremiah 51:30), no doubt with their families.

Jeremiah 43:7

‘And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of YHWH, and they came to Tahpanhes.’

So the refugees made for Egypt, and it is emphasised that this was because ‘they did not obey the voice of YHWH’. And when they came to the border town of Tahpanhes they settled there. A thpnhs is in fact referred to in a Phoenician papyrus letter of the 6th century BC found in Egypt.

Tahpanhes is usually located at modern Tell Defneh, 43 km south-south-west of Port Said (on the grounds of location, the archaeological discovery of Greek pottery, and its similarity in name to the Greek Daphnae, a fortress town fortified by Psammatichus I) and it may mean ‘Mansion of the Nubian’ (t-h(wt)-p-nhsy), having reference to the fortress built there by Psammeticus I for Greek mercenaries. It is probable that there was already a Jewish community there.

Jeremiah no doubt saw it as ironic that after over 600 years of ‘freedom’ from Egypt God’s nominal people had returned there. They had by their own free choice returned to the subjection from which they had been delivered. We can compare how Hosea, in fact, insisted that their heart had always been there (Hosea 11). That was why God’s initial step after the birth of His Son, was to bring Him out of Egypt (Matthew 2:15) finally fulfilling deliverance from Egypt and reversing what had happened here. Men’s hearts have to be ‘delivered from Egypt’.


Verses 8-13

YHWH Declares To Judah That Far From Escaping The Vengeance Of Nebuchadrezzar, It Will Reach Them In Tahpanhes (Jeremiah 43:8-13).

We know from a damaged Babylonian tablet that Nebuchadrezzar did invade Egypt, where, after various successes he reached an understanding with Ahmose II (Amasis c.570-526 BC). It was probably an extensive punitive campaign mainly affecting northern Egypt, but it would be devastating and far reaching while it lasted. It would include within its scope Tahpanhes which was close to the northern border. Indeed the sheltering of these ‘fugitives’ may have been one of Nebuchadrezzar’s grievances against Egypt.

Jeremiah 43:8

‘Then the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes, saying,’

The word of YHWH was not limited to Palestine. And thus it came to Jeremiah in Egypt. God was still concerned to speak to those who claimed to be His people, even though they were living in disobedience, and worse. God’s word knows no limitations.

Jeremiah 43:9

“Take large stones in your hand, and hide them in mortar in the brickwork (or brick-kiln), which is at the entry of Pharaoh’s house in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah,”

Jeremiah was called on to involve himself in another acted out prophecy, this time by taking ‘large stones’ and hiding them in mortar in the ‘brickwork’ (or ‘brick-kiln’) in front of ‘Pharaoh’s house’ in Tahpanhes. The ‘king’s house’ in Tahpanhes is mentioned in the Elephantine papyri. It was not one of Pharaoh’s regular palaces but would rather have been a government building, the administrative centre for the area, although available for Pharaoh’s use when he paid a state visit.

The word translated ‘brickwork’ is a rare one (three times in the Old Testament). Elsewhere it means brick-kiln (see 2 Samuel 12:31; Nahum 3:14). But it is argued that there was unlikely to be a brick-kiln at the entrance to Pharaoh’s house (i.e. government house), and equally unlikely that Jeremiah would see YHWH as setting his throne on it. LXX in fact translates as ‘vestibule’. A parallel Arabic word uses it of brick tiles over a doorway. If we take it as signifying brickwork it may well have consisted of a raised brick pavement in front of ‘Pharaoh’s house’.

On the other hand we could argue that if the house of Pharaoh was in process of being restored (which would explain the presence of the available mortar) there could well have been a brick-kiln in front of it, even if at some distance, and being a raised place it could later have been used by Nebuchadrezzar as a place on which to set up a throne, having covered it with a covering, so that he could be seen by the crowds of people who surrounded and acclaimed him. Reference to a brick-kiln would certainly fit in with the idea of YHWH’s burning anger against His disobedient people, who were perhaps beginning to think of themselves as ‘large stones’ because they were what remained of Judah, and with Nebuchadrezzar’s activities in ‘burning the houses of the gods of Egypt’ as described in Jeremiah 43:12-13. And it is significant that he would do this as ‘YHWH’s servant’ (Jeremiah 43:10).

In favour of the idea of a raised brick platform is the fact that such platforms in front of palaces are known of throughout the Ancient Near East in ancient times, and that the remains of one such platform was discovered in front of a ‘palace’ in Tell Dephne.

Jeremiah 43:10

“And say to them, Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel. Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will set his throne upon these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal covering over them.”

The purpose behind the setting of the large stones hidden in the brickwork or brick-kiln was that they were to be a reminder that in the future Nebuchadrezzar,as YHWH’s servant, would set a throne over them, and spread over them his royal ‘canopy’ or ‘covering’ (the word occurs only here). This may have been a canopy over his head, or a covering on which his throne was then placed, or even a pavilion. Thus ironically the people who had fled from Nebuchadrezzar, ‘YHWH’s servant’, in disobedience to YHWH, would find YHWH’s servant sitting over them as their ruler and lord in their very place of refuge.

Note the full blown title, ‘YHWH of Hosts, the God of Israel’, a reminder that YHWH was the God of battle Who was over all the hosts of the world, as well as being the God of Israel. Even Nebuchadrezzar with all his might was His servant to do His will.

Jeremiah 43:11

“And he will come, and will smite the land of Egypt; such as are for death will be given to death, and such as are for captivity to captivity, and such as are for the sword to the sword.”

In typical Jeremaic language (compare Jeremiah 15:2) it is declared that Nebuchadrezzar will come and smite the land of Egypt bringing death, captivity and sword on its inhabitants, including the hapless Judeans. Rather than escaping death, captivity and sword by their flight the fugitives had plunged themselves right into them. They would each receive their inevitable end, along with those who had welcomed them. As we have seen above a damaged Babylonian tablet confirms this invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadrezzar, whilst not giving the details because of its damaged state.

Jeremiah 43:12

“And I will kindle a fire in the houses of the gods of Egypt, and he will burn them, and carry them away captive, and he will array himself with the land of Egypt, as a shepherd puts on his robe, and he shall go forth from thence in peace.”

Note the change of person to ‘I’. YHWH Himself was involved in this. Not only the people but also the gods in whom they trusted would be humiliated, for YHWH Himself would kindle a fire in the houses of the gods of Egypt (YHWH’s brick kiln?). So in the face of YHWH’s anger the gods of Egypt were no safer than the people. The Egyptian gods and their houses would be burned with fire, whilst the gods themselves would also be carried off as trophies into captivity. Thus the very gods whom they had trusted to keep them from captivity would themselves be taken captive. Josephus later confirms that at this time the Jewish captives were carried off to Babylon.

Furthermore Nebuchadrezzar, as YHWH’s servant, would ‘array himself with the land of Egypt as a shepherd puts on his robe’. Egypt was no match for the one chosen by YHWH to carry out His purposes. It was simply rather an accessory, a cloak for YHWH’s shepherd, to be tossed casually around his shoulders.

Whilst the invasion by Nebuchadrezzar was rather a punitive expedition in the face of different Egyptian activities against their possessions, than a full-scale invasion, it was totally successful and resulted in a peace treaty between himself and Ahmose II, which no doubt acknowledged Babylonian rights in Syria, Cyprus and Palestine, after which Nebuchadrezzar retired in peace, his aims accomplished.

Jeremiah 43:13

“He will also break the pillars of Beth-shemesh, which is in the land of Egypt; and the houses of the gods of Egypt he will burn with fire.”

The outstanding feature of Nebuchadrezzar’s activities as YHWH’s servant would be the breaking of the famous pillars in Beth-shemesh (house of the sun) in Egypt. Even the sun god was helpless before YHWH’s servant. This probably refers to the famous temple in Heliopolis, (twenty miles north-east of Memphis) one of the pillars of which is still standing while another can still be seen in Rome where it was taken by the later victorious Romans. There were also numerous other pillars, and these were accompanied by huge statues. It was an exceedingly prestigious Temple, and no doubt seen by many Egyptians as inviolable. But it would fall at the hands of YHWH’s servant. And the temple at Heliopolis would not suffer alone, for many houses of the gods of Egypt would be consumed by fire before the victorious advance of Nebuchadrezzar, YHWH’s servant. The gods of Egypt would be humiliated, as they had been in the time of Moses.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 43:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-43.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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